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Josef Fares has an interesting take on how to make a successful game. The film director turned game designer has several games under his belt. Each of the three is either a critical or financial success. Each based around a relatively unexplored mechanic or narrative concept.
For Fares, a game doesn’t need to be fun to be a success. It certainly doesn’t hurt, but a game with a unique interactivity, even one that isn’t traditionally fun to play, can be truly successful.
“You hear a lot of people say it needs to be fun, that that’s what is important,” said Fares. “Yes, games could be fun but the best moments in games, for me, haven’t been about fun. To name a few, there’s stuff in Journey, or the beginning of The Last of Us — it’s stuff that wasn’t really about ‘fun.’”
Sometimes it’s not about being fun
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a good example. Fares’ first foray into games isn’t what I would call fun. It’s an amazing game, for sure. It’s engaging and compelling. And it’s emotionally resonant. Fun to play? Maybe not so much. But that game doesn’t work without the unique control method. Fares’ designed Brothers to be played cooperatively, with each player using one half of the same controller.
That interactivity is key to the experience, and the experience is lesser without it. The mechanics of using the single controller are even deeper in retrospect. At a certain point the game forces a loss, and that sudden lack of interactivity hammers the whole thing home.
“You play with these brothers, connect really well, and then one brother will die,” explained Fares. “You will physically feel the loss of one brother … the left hand was the one that you lost, because you’re used to controlling the camera with it.”
Fares followed Brothers up with two more success stories. A Way Out and It Takes Two are more traditional mechanically, but utilize split-screen multiplayer to capture a similar collaborative feeling.
Games not needing to be fun to be successful is a philosophy that I don’t think could work for everyone. But it seems to work for Josef Fares, and the games industry is better off for it.